Meet the Staff: Jessica Kubzansky

by Kelsey Carthew

Over the course of my summer here, I have been getting to know the amazing staff here at Boston Court, and I figured that you lovely readers should get a chance to read some tidbits the staff shared with me. I have asked them all a few questions about themselves and their time here at Boston Court, and their responses will be posted by person.
In this entry, Jessica Kubzansky shares with us her experiences at Boston Court and her favorite words!

Jessica Kubzansky; Co-Artistic Director, Theatre @ Boston Court

1. What’s your favorite word in the English language and why?
JK: My favorite word in the English Language is not, as I’m sure will come as a great shock to my colleagues, thrilling. But questions that ask me to pick favorites are, with rare exceptions, almost impossible to answer, because it requires me to choose something singular, and I have so often a plural answer.
I love the word crepuscular. I love the word muscular. I love the word verisimilitude. I love ineluctableMellifluous for its onomatopoeia (and that’s a great one too). A lot of words I love because I learned fictitious definitions for them in some family game of Fictionary, where everyone has to create a definition for a word that no one knows the meaning of and then the assembled crowd has to guess the true meaning of the word (which is also in the mix). Often times, the fictive definitions rocked my world unutterably, far beyond the prosaic dictionary definition. For instance, Hobson Jobson, which actually means words that morph in use and sound from an original language into a new language, was in the Fictionary game defined as “(n.) a man who builds his outhouse on the edge of town”. Naturally, that’s what I think it means, all evidence to the contrary.
I love words that are beautiful and precise in their meanings. Propitiate is such a great word, I use it a lot in working with actors. Fucking is such a great word for it’s hard edges and emphasis. But mostly, I love how language combines to capture an image or move our hearts and souls. “A murmuration of starlings”. “Astride of a grave and a difficult birth”. “to fust in us unused”. “darkling I listen”. “ladies with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum”… shall I go on?
But I guess if you forced me to pick four, they would be more about credo or what’s important and fundamental: Passion. Truth. Integrity. Humanity.
2. What was the hardest theatrical challenge you have encountered, and what ended up being the solution?
JK: I don’t know if this was the hardest challenge, or just the most recent, but solving how to articulate the story within the story of my most recent production, Michael Elyanow’s The Children, required some of the most thrilling but difficult brainstorming on the part of my whole design team, perhaps most especially my set designer Francois-Pierre Couture and myself, in the larger picture, and Susan Gratch, my puppet designer and I, in terms of making those characters essential and living breathing children.
 If you saw the show, you know now that the play needs to appear to be one thing and then reveal itself to be something very different. The play needs to appear to be set in Ancient Greek times, where a chorus member from the play Medea decides to take Medea’s children away before Medea can kill them. Using Medea’s own magic book, she accidentally transports them to modern Maine into a fishing cottage in the middle of a hurricane. At least, that’s what the play wants you to think when it starts. However, this very beautiful, very challenging play is actually operating on many levels.
 So, indeed, when it starts, it wants you to think it’s a clash of cultures story, 431 BC meets Modern Maine. Slowly, as the story starts to reveal itself, you realize that the play is in fact about something very different. In fact, the play actually takes place in the mind of a man named Ben gazing out a window on his wedding day, wondering if it’s right to go forward into a life of love, reflecting back on the story of his own childhood. And the childhood he’s remembering is one where his father left his mother for another woman, and she, maddened with grief and rage, killed his mistress, cut the father, and threw her children into a Dodge Ramcharger and drove them into the sea to punish the man she loved. The memory the man at the window is remembering is the incident of being driven into the sea, and inside that almost fatal moment, he is remembering all the ancient Greek stories he’s telling his sister to keep her sane as the water starts filling up in the Dodge Ramcharger.
 How to figure out what the set should look like for a story that complex and many-layered was days and days of knocking our heads against various walls as we bumped up against all the things the play needed to help tell its story. We didn’t solve the set until I finally realized that the key to how things should look was that Ben should look around the Dodge Ramcharger, his unbearable reality, and reimagine, re-envision, repurpose it into something more palatable.
Which is ultimately why the set design looked like an exploded fishing cottage, but also one that leaked great holes in it, and that was made up of truck parts made to look like something else. The refrigerator looked like the side of a Ramcharger, complete with doorhandles (which, if you think about it from Ben’s perspective, had him looking at the side doors of the Ramcharger and reenvisioning them as a refrigerator). The window the kids peered through looked like the side window of a Ramcharger. The radiator was a repurposed front grill and headlight of a Ramcharger, as was the actual “bench” that acted like the sofa in the cottage. There were many more car details that informed what things looked like in that room, but more important, the idea of Ben’s “repurposing” became the key to all the design elements, and it helped us unlock and clarify which of the three layers of story we were in at any given time.
It was a glorious, challenging, and enormously satisfying journey with my whole design team to fruition, and I was pretty thrilled with our solutions.
3. Tell me a funny story about something that happened here at Boston Court.
JK: It’s funny now, but at the time it was just traumatic… we were beginning tech for the musical Gulls and had just set up to begin our tech rehearsal, when a mis-hung light accidentally set off and released the sprinkler system, and absolute CASCADES and TORRENTS of water started gushing, flooding down from the sky onto the set. I had no idea our building could even contain that much water. It really was as if we turned backstage into Niagara Falls. However, because the set was a raked stage, pegged up on legs, the water in fact ran under the set on into the house, instantly turning the aisle into a moat of water surrounding the stage. An image that stays in my mind for always is all of us on our valiant staff, rushing frenziedly to and fro from the lobby with all our trash cans and any other receptacles we could find to try to catch the water, barefooted, drenched, trying  to stop the raging flood from rising up and turning the theatre into a lake, some of us upstage in the floodstream, some of us wading and bailing in the moat. The best part was once the flood was shut off, watching the fire department come in and with some magic equipment drain the moat. It was one of the most waterlogged, dramatic beginnings to a tech rehearsal I have ever encountered anywhere, and the bedraggled but still valiant staff somehow managed to make it so that we didn’t lose too many hours of precious tech time after that event.  “THE SHOW MUST GO ON” spirit was alive and well within us as we returned to the mundane business of looking at lights and listening to sound after the deluge.

One response to “Meet the Staff: Jessica Kubzansky

  1. blanche korngold

    Jessie, you’re the best. I love all those Scrabble words!!!! and Hobson Jobson my god! it all comes cascading back into memory. Jay reminded me of the definition for “joist”. How we giggled and screamed with laughter during those bygone days.
    Look very much forward to seeing you on the week-end of the 8th


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